Jail Crisis Can't Wait

January 11, 1994

In 1991, the hottest local issue of the General Assembly session was what to do about the deplorable conditions at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center. Things have not changed much since.

The jail on Jennifer Road in Parole is still deplorable. And due to the irresponsible, selfish political games that have been played with this project, the county is no closer to finding a solution to the jail problem than it was two years ago. The County Council has lacked the fortitude to settle on a site for a new jail. And Annapolis leaders who oppose County Executive Robert R. Neall's last-resort plan to expand the existing jail managed to get Gov. William Donald Schaefer to promise to block state money for it. The governor's pledge not only killed funding for the expansion, but also money for needed improvements to make the jail functional and safe.

It is critical that money for these improvements be appropriated during the 1994 legislative session, which begins tomorrow.

This is not merely a case of making life more comfortable for prisoners. It is a matter of public safety. When violent inmates have to be housed with other prisoners because there aren't enough maximum-security cells, when the building becomes an inferno during the summer, when there is no room for recreation or counseling programs, the result is a jail ever ready to erupt.

The jail was built in 1967 for 200 prisoners; it nowhouses up to 700. The kitchen and laundry haven't been improved in those 27 years. The $11 million Mr. Neall had planned to request from the state for the first phase of the upgrade before the governor stepped in would have corrected these deficiencies and provided more secure cells for maximum-security prisoners. Since then, Annapolis lawmakers who oppose full-scale expansion at Jennifer Road seem to realize that the building will be used as a jail even if other correctional facilities are built elsewhere and that it must be made safe and decent. We fear, however, that with the governor's capital budget completed and the County Council yet to choose a site for a new jail lawmakers will be reluctant to go after any money for Jennifer Road.

That would be a mistake. Fixing Jennifer Road is an important, long overdue step toward relieving a threat to the public safety that is more serious than most people realize.

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